Do you ever wonder about how well or how much you’re actually sleeping? More sleep tracking apps and wearables enter the market all the time and advertise to provide insight into the quality of your sleep. With so many competitive varieties available, it’s hard to know which to select. We’ll look at how consumer sleep technology works and some of the top sleep apps and wearables available.
What are sleep apps and wearables?
Sleep apps and wearables are an alternative to polysomnography (PSG), the gold standard of sleep measurement. PSG measures sleep using brainwave-scanning electrodes and physiological signals such as respiration, movement and skin temperature. Its main use is to assess, characterize and understand sleep and sleep disorders.
Consumer sleep technology is a cheaper and more accessible alternative to a PSG for those interested in their sleep data. A variety of products offer this technology, including apps and wearables. Some apps monitor and track movement and noise, while others offer progressive alarm clocks or sleep triggers. Wearables come in a few different forms, including:
- Watches or wristbands
- Sensor clips
Although features and capabilities vary across devices and apps, they generally aim to track sleep duration and quality, sleep phases, environmental and lifestyle factors.
How well do sleep apps and wearables perform?
Although sleep apps and wearables are not highly regulated, some published studies demonstrate their performance, accuracy, and reliability. In some cases, trackers inaccurately detect noticeable movements like steps, so it’s contentious that they can accurately track more subtle sleep behaviors. Apps and wearables can misinterpret sleep movement as wakefulness or limited movement as sleep, although adjusting sensitivity may improve results. As technology improves, however, many devices can bio-signals that indicate sleep onset and sleep cycles, such as heart rate and variability, skin temperature and respiration. Research and validation tests on sleep devices indicate similar but less precise results.
Although sleep apps and wearables are not reliable for clinical, diagnostic, or research purposes, they can provide valuable insight to the individuals using them and help improve sleep quality awareness. Many can conveniently track sleep and activity automatically. Some studies suggest that wearables will aid in screening patients for potential sleep disorders such as apnea or insomnia in the future. Wearables are also a more accessible and cost-effective alternative to a PSG.
Things to Look for in a Sleep Tracker
The capabilities that you look for in a sleep tracker will depend on your individual use. While some apps and wearables tell you how long you slept, others track bio-signals to analyze your sleep cycles more deeply. Fitness trackers with sleep tracking capability can link your lifestyle (caffeine, food, alcohol consumption and menstruation cycles) and exercise to your sleep and track trends or behaviors. Those with smart alarms claim to learn from your sleep behaviors to assess the optimal time to wake up the wearer.
Comfort should be considered, especially for wearables. Some are bulkier or lighter and you can usually select from a few strap styles. Consider as well the cost or value. If you’re only interested in basic information, you don’t need to buy the most high-end wearable. Some technologies also come in a subscription format.
Top Sleep Apps and Wearables Right Now
Sleep Cycle (App Store, Google Play, and AppGallery) is an app that listens to your sleep sounds to track and analyze your sleep. You can use it through your smartphone or Apple Watch. Turn it on before bedtime, and the alarm will determine your lightest sleep phase and the optimal time to wake you up. You can see the results of your sleep analysis, which includes graphs, insights, trends and guidance on how to improve your sleep. The app also provides access to a sound library of music, meditations and stories. It’s available on an ongoing subscription basis.
Available on the App Store and Google Play, Snore Labs measures and tracks your sleep and snoring. Set it next to your bed while you sleep, and it will tell you when and how loudly you snored, even recording it for you to listen to later. In addition to tracking your snoring and sleep duration, the app also lets you manually track lifestyle factors to see how they
affect your sleep. The app is free but offers some premium paid features.
is a fitness and lifestyle wristband tracker with built-in sleep tracking capabilities. It tracks time in bed, sleep duration, disturbances, sleep stages, respiration and latency. WHOOP also tracks and analyzes lifestyle factors and trends such as baseline sleep needs and sleep debt, offering coaching, recommendations and insight to optimize your sleep. It assesses your sleep needs and compares them with your actual sleep to indicate weekly sleep performance. You’ll need to purchase a WHOOP band and pay for an ongoing subscription to access your data.
Fitbit watches offer many different sleep features for those that want a more in-depth understanding. It automatically tracks and analyzes your sleep duration, sleep stages and cycles. It also offers manual and learned lifestyle inputs, allowing you to set schedules and waking you up at the optimal time in your sleep cycle. It also provides insights and tips for getting better sleep. One study found a minimal discrepancy in measuring the Fitbit Charge HR’s heart rate capability against an echocardiogram, suggesting a higher degree of accuracy than other consumer options. Prices for Fitbit watches vary but don’t have ongoing fees.